Parasitism finds many solutions to the same problems in red algae (Florideophyceae, Rhodophyta)

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Parasitic red algae evolve from a common ancestor with their hosts, parasitizing cousins using familiar cellular mechanisms. They have independently evolved over one hundred times within the exclusively multicellular red algal class Florideophyceae. Reduced morphology, a lack of pigmentation, and direct cell–cell connections with their hosts are markers of red algal parasitism. With so many potential evolutionary pathways, red algal parasite diversity offers a unique test case to understand the earliest stages of this lifestyle transition. Molecular and morphological investigations led to the categorization of these parasites based on their relationship to their host. “Adelphoparasites” are phylogenetically close to their hosts, often infecting a sister species, whereas “alloparasites” are more distantly related to their hosts. The differentiation of these parasites, based on their phylogenetic relationship to their host, has resulted in a simplified classification of these parasites that may not reflect the many evolutionary pathways they take to arrive at a similar endpoint. Accordingly, many parasites fall into a gray area between adelphoparasite and alloparasite definitions, challenging the established features we use to classify them. Molecular phylogenetic research has been essential in identifying gaps in knowledge, but microscopy needs to be reincorporated in order to address red algal parasite developmental variation to establish a new paradigm. The joint utilization of molecular and microscopic methods will be critical in identifying the genomic and physiological traits of both nascent and well-established parasites.

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Molecular and Biochemical Parasitology